Hulu may still be known mostly for TV (and its insistence on reminding people they have live sports) but they also have a pretty impressive catalog of action movies. You may not be able to see a high-powered blockbuster in theaters in 2020, but that shouldn’t stop you from watching one at home! Here are the 30 best.
Yann Demange directed this tight and taut retelling of an event in Belfast during the height of The Troubles in 1971. The great Jack O’Connell (Godless) plays a new recruit in the British Army who has basically been stranded behind enemy lines after a violent encounter and is forced to fight his way home. O’Connell is fantastic in a film that increases tension with each subsequent scene. You won’t be able to catch your breath.
Takashi Miike has made directed over 100 movies, and this is one of the best, a stylish throwback to samurai cinema of old anchored by the modern filmmaking prowess of one of the best filmmakers alive. A remake of Eiichi Kudo’s 1963 film, this is loosely based on actual events from 1844 when 12 samurai storytelling and sprays of samurai blood.
James Mangold directed this remake of the 1957 classic, which was based on a short story by the great Elmore Leonard. Russell Crowe and Christian Bale are excellent as the bad and good guy, respectively, from Ben Foster. It’s a tense, well-crafted genre piece that seems overdue for a reappraisal.
Katsuhiro Otomo’s 1988 adaptation of the hit manga franchise has been often imitated but rarely duplicated. See what the big deal is about with a revisit of a film that has influenced literally hundreds of other works, animated and live-action, in the three decades since its release. They’re always talking about remaking it, but it usually falls apart. People are probably scared to walk in the shadow of such an achievement.
This Sundance hit from 2018 seems to be growing a cult following more with each passing day. It’s a story of rebellion and toxic social media culture led by Odessa Young, Suki Waterhouse, Hari Nef, and Abra. After a computer hacker releases the secrets of everyone in the town of Salem, well, a modern kind of witch hunt goes down. It gets violent and intense in unexpected ways.
Ted Demme directed this entertaining adaptation of Bruce Porter’s book of the same name, loosely based on the true story of American cocaine smuggler George Jung, played by Johnny Depp. Jung got involved with the Medellin drug cartel in unexpected and dangerous ways. Depp is ably supported by Penelope Cruz, Franke Potente, Rachel Griffiths, and Ray Liotta.
An artist named Rapman, who built a following on YouTube, made his feature debut with this 2020 crime drama, a film that once looked like it would have a big release but saw its prospects sabotaged by COVID back in March. It’s a relatively familiar story of gang culture but it’s told with an incredibly vibrant style, some of which even includes spoken word rhyming in place of traditional language.
If you’re looking for a good, underrated thriller, look no further than Breakdown, about a road trip gone horribly awry. Jonathan Mostow directs the always-great Kurt Russell as a man who has some words with a truck driver and learns that road rage is never the answer. A mix of modern fears with a noir sensibility, it’s a tight, effective little movie of the kind that doesn’t really make it to theaters all that often anymore.
John Woo’s American output may have never matched his Chinese output, but there are still action highlights in it that deserve a second look or a nostalgic revisit. Take his 1996 thriller starring Christian Slater and John Travolta, who plays an Air Force pilot who steals two nuclear bombs. It’s goofy and dated, but it also has some great action courtesy of a master of the genre.
Travis Knight of Laika fame (Kubo and the Two Strings) directed the best Transformers movie in this unexpectedly joyous spinoff of the massive Hasbro series of films. It’s a movie with the same kind of family/adventure spirit as ’80s classics of the genre, buoyed by fun performances from Hailee Steinfeld and John Cena.
Nicolas Cage leads one of his best ensembles in an action movie about a plane full of convicts that gets hijacked. Of course, Cage plays the “good criminal,” a guy sentenced to ten years for defending his pregnant wife. He finds himself the only possible savior on a plane full of real bad guys that includes John Malkovich, Steve Buscemi, Ving Rhames, and Danny Trejo.
Alexandre Aja directed this razor-sharp 2019 film about a father and daughter trapped in a basement as flood waters rise during a hurricane. Oh, and they just happen to be being hunted by alligators. A combination of disaster flick and monster flick tropes, Aja’s film is a delight from start to finish. There’s not an ounce of fat on this one.
Hulu landed both films starring Ryan Reynolds as the merc with a mouth. Time for a double feature! The charismatic actor is perfectly cast as the wisecracking “hero” in these films that really parody superhero blockbusters as much as they embrace them. The second film is arguably even better than the first, thanks in part to fun supporting performances from Josh Brolin and Zazie Beetz.
This live-action adaptation of the Nickelodeon cartoon has no right to be as funny and clever as it is. It helps that newcomer Isabela Moner is a delightful lead as Dora, but there’s also a delightfully self-aware tongue-in-cheek tone to this film, one that’s funny without every taking itself too seriously. It’s a sweet family adventure movie that works equally for parents and little ones.
*Enemy at the Gates
Jean-Jacques Annaud co-wrote and directed this smart and underrated World War II movie based on the book Enemy at the Gates: The Battle for Stalingrad. Said battle took place in the winter of 1942 and 1943 and is captured here through the eyes of a sniper played well by Jude Law. It’s a detailed, nuanced war film that also stars Joseph Fiennes, Rachel Weisz, Ed Harris, Bob Hoskins, and Ron Perlman.
Kurt Wimmer wrote and directed this sci-fi action flick that made almost nothing when it was released but built a cult following over the years. Sure, it’s heavily inspired by The Matrix, but it’s still fun stuff, anchored by a committed performance by Christian Bale as an officer in a future in which human emotions have been controlled by prescription drugs. So, basically 2020.
There are rumors that a remake of the John Woo classic is on the horizon, so you owe it to yourself to go back and see the very high standard that project will have to meet. Face/Off is one of the best action movies of the ‘90s, a wonderfully staged blockbuster by one of the genre’s best filmmakers. And John Travolta and Nicolas Cage were near the peaks of their screen charismas as an FBI agent and terrorist who end up, well, switching faces. It’s a blast.
The Fifth Element
There’s not a lot of great sci-fi on Hulu, but you should fire this one up if you’re jonesing for something set in a different time and place in space. And make sure you do so on the biggest TV in your house and with the volume at a level to wake the neighbors. Luc Besson’s vision isn’t exactly a great piece of storytelling, but the Bruce Willis vehicle is a perfect example of the director’s skill with world-building and technical elements.
The Forbidden Kingdom
Sure, sure—a movie starring Jet Li and Jackie Chan should have been better than this one, but that doesn’t mean this isn’t worth a look on Hulu on a boring weeknight. Heavy on special effects, this 2008 film is a kung fu wuxia flick loosely based on Journey to the West and contains action sequences choreographed by the legendary Yuen Woo-ping.
David Mackenzie’s 2016 modern western is feeling more and more like a definitive film of the last decade with each passing year. There aren’t many films that one could consider better at capturing the lengths people will go to hold on to what’s theirs than this story of two brothers (Chris Pine & Ben Foster) who become bank robbers to save their family land. The cast is uniformly great, but it’s Taylor Sheridan’s excellent script that really makes this a special movie.
*The Last of the Mohicans
Artists Daniel Day-Lewis and Michael Mann merged their talents for their 1992 action epic adaptation of the classic James Fenimore Cooper novel. It ended up one of the most popular films in either of their careers, a highbrow action movie with great set pieces and wonderful supporting turns from Madeleine Stowe and Wes Studi.
It may not have exactly been a “comeback film” but it was still fun to see Arnold Schwarzenegger in action mode in 2013 when he starred in this, his first film in a leading role in a decade. The amazing Kim Jee-woon (A Tale of Two Sisters, I Saw the Devil) directs the story of a small-town sheriff who will do anything to stop the drug lord trying to get through his town.
The Oscar-winning franchise by Peter Jackson bounces around the streaming services with alarming regularity, now finding its way to Hulu for an indeterminate amount of time. Watch the entire saga of Frodo Baggins, Samwise Gange, and the rest of the Fellowship while you can.
Tom Cruise’s latest adventure as Ethan Hunt may actually be his best. It’s certainly one of the best action movies of the last couple years, and it’s already available on streaming services! Sure, you’ve read a lot about how Cruise does his own stunts (which is impressive), but watch this for a masterclass in action film editing too. The film hums and moves in ways that other action movies just don’t. It’s as wildly entertaining as anything you’ll find on Amazon Prime with the possible exception of Ghost Protocol, also on the service.
It’s rare for a fourth film in a franchise to be considered its best, but some certainly feel that this Brad Bird 2011 banger qualifies. It essentially rebooted the franchise in which Tom Cruise tries to kill himself for your entertainment value, leading to the worldwide success of Rogue Nation and Fallout. This movie rules.
J.J. Abrams produced this 2018 hit that blends the war movie genre with something much more sinister. A platoon of soldiers is dropped behind enemy lines in World War II who stumble upon a series of very wrong Nazi experiments that have unleashed something that’s not quite human. Great action and unexpected gore.
There’s a reason this is reportedly the most streamed original Hulu film to date. People love a good thriller, and Run is a tight piece of work. Newcomer Kiera Allen is phenomenal as a young woman who has been told her entire life that she’s sick, but she discovers that her mother (Sarah Paulson) may be hiding a horrible secret.
One of Jason Statham’s bigger bombs when compared to films in the Transporter and Furious franchises, this 2012 thriller deserves another look and, well, any Statham movie on Hulu is going to be on this list. Statham stars as an ex-cop who ends up protecting a child who is being chased by just about everyone, including the Russian mafia and the Chinese Triads. Don’t mess with Statham.
More sci-fi than traditional action, but the stakes are high enough that it qualifies. A group of astronauts in 2057 are tasked with reigniting the dying sun, knowing that they probably can’t come back after doing so. Danny Boyle directs a great ensemble that includes Cillian Murphy, Chris Evans, and Rose Byrne.
Long before every comic book got an adaptation somewhere came this quirky 1995 cult hit based on the series of the same name by Alan Martin and Jamie Hewlett. Lori Petty, Naomi Watts, Ice-T, and Malcolm McDowell star in this post-apocalyptic action comedy with a punk rock aesthetic. Some of it doesn’t work, for sure, but it’s got a unique sensibility and has become even more popular in the quarter-century since it was released.
Roland Emmerich directed two of the biggest foreign action stars in the world in Jean-Claude Van Damme and Dolph Lundgren in this sci-fi/action film about a U.S. Army soldier killed in Vietnam and resurrected with a program designed to create super soldiers. Critics kind of hated it, but it made enough to start a franchise, and has gained a following over the years.
Some of the plot of Jung Byung-gil’s movie doesn’t make a ton of sense, but it doesn’t mater when a film contains as many bad-ass action sequences as this one does. Inspired by La Femme Nikita, this is the story of an assassin…oh, who cares? It’s mostly the story of insane action choreography, including amazing sword fight while on motorcycles. Yes, you read that right.
Disaster movies aren’t just for Americans anymore! The premise of this is the kind of simple wonder that they used to make in Hollywood more in the ‘70s and ‘80s. An avalanche causes a large enough rockslide into a body of water that it creates a tsunami, and a nervous geologist is one of the few people who knows the carnage that’s about to come. Well-acted and smartly constructed, this is a wonderful slice of disaster escapism.